PR Trailblazers Prove that Youth Is Not Wasted on the Young

As we searched for the ideal candidates for our first annual PR NEWS 15 to Watch Stars of PR honors, our favorite nomination was for "One bright young starlette - tall, brunette, attractive... Unfortunately I don't remember her name." That's not what we meant by 15 to Watch. In our quest to find the most innovative, exciting, up-and-coming practitioners in the public relations industry, we came across dozens of people who merited our attention and admiration. But the 15 individuals on the pages that follow all had a quality that placed them on a higher plane - a grasp of the big picture, impeccable timing and often a keen sense of humor. The corporate world introduced us to creative thinkers at VISA, Jack in the Box, Spin magazine and others. On the agency side, we found stars at firms from start-ups to behemoths, including two who ventured out to launch their own shops. Most of all, the 15 to Watch emit a feeling that they enjoy their work. As one of our winners advised, "Try to have fun and enjoy yourself because it shows in everything you do." And no, that wasn't the "starlette" talking. If you have someone who belongs in our 15 to Watch, we're doing this again next year. So send along your nominations in an email to Roger Friedman at Alisa Beyer Founder and President The ProMarc Agency Washington, DC Age: 33 Alisa Fogelman Beyer does a lot of things you're not supposed to do... but her colleagues and clients don't seem to mind. Beyer left Georgetown Law after a semester, choosing a piddly-paying fundraising job for the American Lung Association over a likely lucrative law career. With only an emergency crash course in media relations to guide her, she voluntarily stepped in front of a hostile media horde to field questions during the radon crisis at the age of 21. After a stop heading up PR for Prince William County, Virginia, she moved to Hager Sharp where she built a corporate practice that accounted for roughly 40 percent of the firm's revenues within two years of its launch. Then, armed only with $5,000 cash and a well-used convertible, she lit out on her own, establishing The ProMarc Agency. Two years later, with her firm's b-to-b revenues soaring, she decided to tear down and start again, reinventing her agency as a high-tech specialist - including ditching $1.5 million in "old economy" clients. Now ProMarc is on track to become one of the top 30 high-tech PR firms nationwide with 1999 revenues of $2.2 million, the firm's third straight year of record-setting earnings. You can't always do what you're supposed to do. What piece of advice has been of most use to you in your professional career? "Listen, this is PR, you have to be able to create the event, make the crepe, serve the crepe, get the media to taste the crepe, and then get them to write about it! Oh yeah, and clean up the mess after the crepe-making is over!" Who is your mentor and why? My mother's advice is without equal: "Stop whining!" If you had to choose a career other than PR, what would it be? Professional pedicurist. I've learned how to make many things smell pretty. What is your dream job? PR manager for the Cayman Islands. What awards have you won? Does senior prom queen count? What's the one thing you can't live without in public relations? Coffee and pizza. What advice would you offer to a future 15 to Watch candidate? Do your homework and go to bed by 10 on school nights. Jessica Blue Associate VP Richard French & Associates Raleigh, N.C. Age: 27 With her father in advertising, communication lingo circulated Jessica Blue's dinner table as frequently as salt and pepper. It was during these formative years that her interest in communication began, which led her to study journalism and mass communications at the University of North Carolina. But following her father's advertising footsteps was not meant to be. An internship with Hill & Knowlton convinced her the job of the PR professional was more creative than its advertising counterpart. In PR, she could flex her much-loved writing muscle, whereas advertising was more about servicing the client and outsourcing all the fun stuff. What was your worst PR mistake and what lesson did you learn from it? I drafted media materials based on information a new client provided to me. I later discovered the client had exaggerated some data. If you had to choose a career other than PR, what would it be? I would be a novelist. Like many other PR professionals I know, I am a closet writer. What is your greatest accomplishment? While a student, I volunteered with a nonprofit organization to raise $15,000 for a development center for underprivileged children. This money was used to improve facilities and add enrichment programs for the children. Personally, I feel better about this accomplishment than any other. What PR issues keep you up at night? The proliferation of dotcom and start-up businesses turning to PR in order to raise venture capital, not to build a brand. Many of these companies seek public relations counsel in order to gain funding without intending to ever provide a product or service. They then either sell or go public and discontinue agency service...This short-sighted strategy is counterintuitive to my work ethic and my style. What's the one thing you can't live without in public relations? A large part of PR still boils down to media relations 101. Without the ability to develop and keep good relationships with key reporters, all of the cell phones, laptops and pagers in the world are useless. What advice would you offer to a future 15 to Watch candidate? Don't specialize too early. Joe Carberry Director Corporate Relations VISA U.S.A. San Francisco Age: 28 Like most college students, Joe Carberry was experimental. He studied art and journalism at San Diego State, although his genetic makeup was always predisposed toward finance (his father was a stockbroker). After graduation, Carberry cut his teeth in corporate public affairs at the San Diego agency Stoorza Zieger & Metzger, then hopped over to a post as deputy press secretary for the mayor of San Diego. He later headed north and joined the San Francisco office of Fleishman-Hillard, where he worked on accounts for a number of financial services firms, including W.R. Hambrick and Discover Brokerage (now Morgan Stanley Dean Witter online), plus digital financial communications for Sony. Nobody was too surprised when Carberry landed a plum job at VISA last year, managing media relations and brand communications. VISA's parent company, Citigroup, is now seventh in the Fortune 500, and saw Carberry as a good investment. What piece of advice has been most useful to you in your professional career? "Go for the goose bumps," meaning, go after what really excites you or matters to you. What is the strangest thing you've ever done in the line of duty? As the press liaison for the mayor of San Diego, I spent an entire day driving around the city looking for the "perfect" pothole for a news conference in which the mayor was to demonstrate a revolutionary machine that repaired damaged streets. The event was cancelled the next day because the machine didn't work. How do you stay attuned to the needs of your customers, analysts and the media? I'm an information junkie. I read three or four papers a day and scan the Internet looking for things related to my business. Equally important, though, is spending time away from the office doing things not related to work. Some of the most creative ideas I've been associated with have originated in seeing something on TV, in a book, or in a conversation with a person who doesn't work in PR. What keeps you awake at night? The lack of trained practitioners in the field. Here in Silicon Valley, I see the insatiable demand for PR positions has led to a lowering of the standards of our business. Left unabated, I think this will do serious damage to our profession. Alana Coleman PR Manager Hummingbird Toronto Age: 29 Most job seekers start small and hope to make it big someday. Alana Coleman cut to the chase. After graduating from Bishops University in Quebec, she went global and landed an internal communications position with Asia Chemical Corp. in Taiwan. This led to a reporting gig with the China Post, the region's largest English-speaking newspaper (circ. 130,000), where Coleman covered tech trade shows. During an interview, she was recruited by one of her sources to take a marketing position with Leo Systems, an international competitor to Compaq and IBM headquartered in Taiwan. By the time she moved back to Canada in 1997, Coleman was a prime candidate in Toronto's high-tech corridor, and joined PCDOCS Group, International, which was later acquired by Hummingbird, Canada's fourth largest software developer. But, having seen the world, Coleman is now ready for a different kind of challenge. As PR NEWS went to press, she announced plans to leave Hummingbird and join a small tech start-up. "I have a benchmark in terms of the large company experience," she says. "Now I want to be part of something that's still growing and hasn't reached maturity." Have you always been a tech junkie? No. When I went to Asia, I knew nothing about high-tech. I was completely computer-illiterate and didn't even have email. But Asia is such a glut for the IT industry - it was a great place to be exposed to technology and its impact on the world. What is the strangest thing you've ever done in the line of duty? Dress up in a space suit and perform the Macarena at a trade show booth. What is your greatest accomplishment? Whichever one I've just finished. I feel a great deal of pride every time we're featured on TV, mentioned in a magazine or cited favorably in an analyst's report. What keeps you awake at night? PR affects so much of the human decision-making process - the food we eat, the products we buy, what we think of our political leaders. Sometimes it's overwhelming to consider. What advice would you offer to a future 15 to Watch candidate? Follow your creative urges. Never feel stifled and don't be afraid to make a suggestion that might sound silly. John Deveney Founder and Senior Counsel Deveney Communications New Orleans Age: 33 He admits it sounds Pollyannish, but John Deveney believes in socially conscious PR, and he founded his own agency to prove it. After stints in the mayor's office (City of New Orleans) and New Orleans-based Peter A. Mayer PR, Deveney launched his namesake agency in 1996 and began evaluating prospective clients based on qualities such as altruism, personality and their appreciation for PR as a strategic business tool. Deveney has no qualms about turning away business that doesn't match his firm's ideals. To date, most of his clients have come via word of mouth, not RFPs. In 1999, Deveney Communications won the international Jake Wittmer Research Award, logging the first time the award was ever given in recognition of nonprofit work (a campaign for the No AIDS Task Force). Deveney also has more than 30 other industry awards under his cap. Not surprisingly, he volunteers. Organizations that have benefited from his leadership include the Boy Scouts, Learning for Life, United Way, Greater New Orleans Education Foundation, New Orleans Police Foundation, the Southern Film Institute and Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. Who was your mentor and why? Jinx Broussard. She was press secretary to the mayor and director of public information while I was doing a mayoral fellowship in 1988 ... She wasn't just a top-notch professional, she was also a good role model and human being. What is your dream job? Head of communications for the American Embassy in Paris, or of international relations for the Vatican. Describe a recent accomplishment. We launched in February and promoted the site launch by setting up live Web cams in various parties around town. The campaign lasted one month and the client set a goal to reach 5 million page views. We logged 29 million. What was your worst PR mistake? During the launch of, we had to cancel a scheduled shoot at the "Lords of Leather" Ball at the last minute. Suffice it to say the Lords were angry that their coverage didn't happen, and they personally blamed me ... Every time I saw someone in leather on the street after that, I was afraid they'd kill me. Susan Hardin-Brennan Media Relations Specialist U.S. Postal Service Washington, DC Age: 35 Susan Hardin-Brennan remembers how people took for granted the services Ma Bell provided before its break-up and how everyone deemed the industry a complicated mess after new companies entered the field. Working with the U.S. Postal Service for over 10 years, Brennan understands the intricacies involved in getting a letter from point A to point B and knows most customers take the service for granted. It is from this empathy she does her work, weaving strategic communications about the work postal employees do into her messages to reporters while still handling and responding to their needs. She also has an excellent understanding of the high-tech field and plays a decisive role in the promotion of the Postal Service's e-commerce initiatives. What piece of advice has been most useful to you in your professional career? I was taught the importance of treating everyone with the same level of respect and courtesy. What was your worst PR mistake and what lesson did you learn from it? Several years ago, a confidential corporate document was leaked to a reporter and subsequently printed on the home-page of a popular Web site. I was caught completely off-guard when the reporters began calling, and ... I panicked. Instead of telling the reporters that I'd get back to them, I ended up providing them with more information -- making the situation worse. What is your greatest accomplishment? Having and raising my two boys [ages 15 and 6] and balancing work and family responsibilities in a manner that allows me to enjoy both. If you had to choose a career other than PR, what would it be? I'd want to work with either a high-tech or Internet-based group and get more involved in the actual creation of electronic services. What's the one thing you can't live without in public relations? Common sense, a sense of humor and my Palm Pilot. What advice would you offer to a future 15 to Watch candidate? Know what you're talking about before you start talking. Don't be afraid to say you don't know the answer. Don't be intimidated into providing information you're uncomfortable sharing. Try to have fun and enjoy yourself because it shows in everything you do. Evan Kraus VP and Director Technology Services APCO Associates Inc. Washington, DC Age: 30 PR is not exactly rocket science. Evan Kraus is not exactly a rocket scientist. But with training in orbital mechanics and propulsion for a University of Virginia degree in aerospace engineering, Kraus is not your typical PR professional. "The biggest difference between PR and orbital mechanics is in hard core science, there's a right answer," he says. "With PR, there's never really a right answer. The laws of communication and people's views change all the time. Physics never changes." After graduating, Kraus worked with Booz-Allen & Hamilton in the satellite systems practice on global positioning systems. He was wooed into the public affairs world by the CEO of APCO (his mom). "In 1996, they had a feeling the Internet would change the way we do business," he says. "They felt the only way to get in front of the trend is to bring in professionals to bridge the gap between technology and communications." Oddly, Kraus sees some parallels between PR and aerospace engineering. "In both, there's a sense of bringing things together. People don't come to us and say, I want to launch a PR campaign," he says. "They want to accomplish X and it's up to us to pull together the right set of tactics to create the necessary communication." What piece of advice has been of most use to you in your professional career? Remain balanced. Supporting multiple clients in a tumultuous communications environment, it is easy to get caught up in the highs and lows of public relations programs. Who is your mentor and why? Since I have joined the PR profession, my mentor has to be my mother, who happens to also be APCO's CEO. It has been energizing and fun to work in "the family business," and we have found that our instincts and often our ideas are in synch when brainstorming communications solutions for our clients. What is the strangest thing you've done in the line of duty? To come work for a PR firm at all. Working in public affairs or public relations had never occurred to me as a potential career, especially after investing significant time in engineering and applied science ... As I learned more and more about the business, my excitement increased. I made the right choice. What advice would you offer to a future 15 to Watch candidate? Work hard to find a niche where you can make a name for yourself. Felicia Lindau CEO and Founder San Francisco Age: 33 Unable to secure a spot on "Today" with Katie Couric to promote her new site, Felicia Lindau didn't settle for rejection. She and three colleagues flew to New York and waited outside Rockefeller Center, carving out prime spots at 4 a.m. alongside the standard gaggle of tourists. Armed with ludicrously large and obnoxious hats (Lindau toted a lit-up Christmas tree on her head), they mugged for the cameras, garnering a 5-second freeze on their logo and several calls afterward praising their outside-the-box thinking. "People aren't going to remember the normal, typical stuff you do," says Lindau. "You've got to take your chances and try some, well, unusual things." This thinking served her well earlier in her career as she marketed large branded companies, like Levi's and Microsoft and as an account supervisor helping guide launches for Excite, and MSN. An entrepreneur at heart (in the mode of her father), Lindau jumped at the chance to start her own dotcom, a site devoted to "helping people keep the spark in their relationships." Even though she's running the show, she's still got her foot on the PR side. "Without good PR, you're nowhere." What piece of advice has been of most use to you in your professional career? Don't listen to the meddling voice in your head that tells you something is impossible. Who is your mentor? Without question, my father. He could make anything happen - with passion, understanding and integrity. What was your worst mistake and what lesson did you learn from it? Underestimating how important the team is in any endeavor. I learned how critical and challenging it is to build the right team. What PR issues keep you up at night? How to continually reach our ideal customer demographic in a way that always "wows!" them. What's the one thing you can't live without in public relations? A great team that can make magic happen and that will be there with honest input and feedback. What advice would you offer to a future 15 to Watch candidate? When someone tells you "no" for an answer, see that as a starting point and move towards "yes" from there. Joe McGrath PR Manager Neurological and Spinal Medtronic Inc. Minneapolis Age: 31 When Joe McGrath switched majors from pre-med to journalism at American University, he didn't think he'd ever end up back in the realm of his first love. "[Medtronic] is the ideal situation for me, because I get to combine the two things I'm most interested in at one job," he says. "I didn't expect things to work out like this, but everything's come full circle." Of course - as is typical for a young, talented professional in a tight job market - the route was circuitous. Right out of school, he caught on with a hotel and restaurant trade association where there were "very few people and lots of responsibilities to go around." He followed the hotel/restaurant industry to Paris, where he worked as a communications consultant. Next stop, Minneapolis, where he worked for Shandwick on the Breathe Right nasal strips campaign, along with Microsoft, Coca-Cola and U S West accounts. Then last October he joined Medtronic, a medical technology company devoted to restoring people to full health. "I didn't mind the constant juggling [of agency life]," he says, "but I love the focus and being able to get a deep understanding of a topic." What piece of advice has been of most use to you in your professional career? "Always make things easy to understand. Simplify. That's the key to success." What was your worst PR mistake and what lesson did you learn from it? Confusing a congenial reporter with a confidante. From the resulting story, I learned to treat each reporter as neither friend nor foe. What is the strangest thing you've done in the line of duty? I posed as an eight-foot inflatable nose, the mascot for Breathe Right nasal strips. A group of little kids mistook Cyrano de Breathe Right for a punching bag, so I sneezed at them until they relented. What PR issues keep you up at night? Quantifying the value of media coverage remains the Achilles heel of public relations. That keeps me up - until I remember that even things that are difficult to measure can and do have value. What advice would you offer to a future 15 to Watch candidate? Strive for perfection in your work, but develop the wisdom to know when good enough is good enough. Sharon Reis Partner Garrett Yu Hussein Washington, DC Age: 31 SharonReis perused a few jobs before choosing a career in PR. While studying communication and Spanish at the University of Massachusetts she interned with radio and television stations, but nothing fit. Next came a stint at Boston's statehouse where she found politics a turn-off, but communicating with the public enjoyable. This discovery led her to the University of Hartford's graduate program, studying communication with a concentration in marketing. Reis finds the pressure of meeting deadlines extremely motivating. What piece of advice has been of most use to you in your professional career? Look at every challenge as an opportunity and never focus on what you can't do, but the prospect of what you can do. Think creatively, but never at the expense of thinking strategically. Who is your mentor and why? My parents and my husband are my biggest cheerleaders and support me in everything I do. What is the strangest thing you've done in the line of duty? I've done everything from getting 1,200 kids to stop ringing bells on cue, to holding an outside event during the biggest snowstorm of the year. If you had to choose a career other than PR, what would it be? An emergency room doctor or anything where strategic thinking, creativity, great communication skills and fast thinking are paramount. What PR issues keep you up at night? Press conferences. I think of a press conference as a chain of "what ifs." You need to be prepared for every possible scenario, have at least one back-up plan for each of them and pray that the media likes your story. Events are stressful, but I truly enjoy them. What's the one thing you can't live without in public relations? A strong work ethic and great client service. Public relations, especially if you work at an agency, is fast-paced and challenging. You need to be able to juggle multiple tasks, issues and clients while maintaining a cool head in time of crisis, always focusing on what the client needs, making them look good and achieving the best results possible. What advice would you offer to a future 15 to Watch candidate? Search out a firm, a corporation or an association that works on issues that motivate you. If you don't believe in your issue or product, don't do it. Your reputation is everything. Jason Roth PR Director Spin Magazine New York Age: 30 Some matches are made in heaven, and some are made in bars. Jason Roth first met the editors of Spin magazine in 1995 at the trendy Chicago nightclub, Drink. Roth was working for the hip boutique Tom Doody & Associates (which represented Drink) and convinced Spin to stage its tenth anniversary party there. Five months later, Spin called and offered him a job managing media relations and corporate communications. In truth, it was a liaison Roth spent his life preparing for. He was a charter Spin subscriber in 1985, and as an undergraduate at Indiana University, he worked in a record store. After graduation, he wrote music and entertainment reviews for the Chicago Tribune before joining Tom Doody, an agency specializing in dining and entertainment. Spin is only Roth's second job in 10 years, but he's been around the block. Immersion in pop culture has meant driving public dialogue about everything from voter apathy to gun violence to race relations to terrorism. When Spin got the only jailhouse interview with Timothy McVeigh, Roth got his title plugged on CNN, the Today Show and MSNBC. What's the strangest thing you've ever done in the line of duty? Spin published a feature about the practice of trepanation [drilling a hole in your head to increase blood brain volume, which supposedly makes you smarter and stronger]. I got this hole-in-the-head guy on Howard Stern's show. Howard started reading him trivia questions and made him do push-ups. The guy didn't do very well. If you had to choose another career, what would it be? Sounds predictable, but I'd consider freelance writing again. If all else failed, I could happily take the graveyard shift on some low-watt radio station and subject its listeners to my record collection. What is your greatest accomplishment? I like to think I've helped big media catch up with Spin. Spin was among the first to foresee that pop culture was big business and that the opinions of twenty-somethings mattered. I spoke to producers behind CBS's 1996 presidential election coverage and had them book one of our editors to provide commentary on the Generation X vote. It was validation that our readers had an important voice in serious issues - particularly in areas as old-guard as politics. Call it slackers' revenge. Advice for a future 15 to Watch candidate? The best thing you can do for your career is gain a reputation for telling the truth. Samantha Sackin Senior VP Fleishman-Hillard Los Angeles Age: 30 Samantha Sackin has the kind of career path that young kids fantasize about and old kids envy. Since 1991, she's been getting paid to chase mascots, read comic books and play video games. After graduating from American University, Sackin worked for the Washington bureau of Thompson newspapers, where she covered "everything from kids visiting D.C. to the Planters Peanut when he was lobbying Congress." That same year, she joined Fleishman-Hillard as an intern, and eventually scored a full-time position serving various accounts. In 1994, Sackin jumped to Full Moon Entertainment where, as marketing director, she launched a new sci-fi comic book division known as Silver Moon comics. Six months later the company folded, and she returned to F-H - this time armed with a deeper understanding of the teen market and other disciplines such as advertising, marketing and retail distribution. When the agency was approached by Sony to launch PlayStation, Sackin was in pole position. She's been on the account ever since. What piece of advice has been most useful to you in your professional career? Before I went to college, I was told to always take one class completely outside my major on a subject that interested me. I've made it a point to apply this philosophy to my professional life as well. Pulling information, resources and knowledge from other disciplines yields better long-term results for clients. If you had to choose another career, what would it be? I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up. Maybe an astronaut. What keeps you awake at night? Recruiting and keeping great talent so that we are delivering the best and most consistent results for our clients. I also worry about not enough casual days. What's the one tool you can't live without? My magic 8-Ball. What advice would you offer to a future 15 to Watch candidate? Read Peter Drucker's books, read about different marketing disciplines and other industries, and become familiar with pop culture. Demonstrate how smart you are, always respond to emails and be open to learning from people at all levels. Eric Schellhorn Director Corporate Communications Jack in the Box Inc. San Diego Age: 31 Eric Schellhorn thought he'd be a reporter for the rest of his life, hence his masters in journalism from the University of North Carolina. He worked for two years as a journalist, then traveled to Canada where he became chief legislative aide to a member of Parliament. It was here Schellhorn learned about PR and discovered he liked it. Before leaving the Great White North he drafted two bills that passed the House of Commons with all-party support and then returned stateside, joining James A. Fyock and Associates, an independent PR agency based in Winston-Salem, N.C. While working with the firm, Schellhorn spearheaded a media blitz for Jack in the Box's litigation/crisis communication management program. He got to deal with the outbreak of food illness caused by meat suppliers delivering unhealthy goods. Schellhorn's effort landed an op-ed piece in several newspapers across a bevy of markets and minimized the damage of the outbreak. For such an outstanding effort, Jack in the Box hired Schellhorn and transplanted him to sunny San Diego, where the 15-to-Watcher has never looked back. What piece of advice has been of most use to you in your professional career? I've often asked experts to explain their work to me as though I were a moderately intelligent 7-year-old... They appreciate your high regard for their expertise and you actually get to understand whatever it is they're talking about. Who is your mentor and why? I have two: Jim Fyock and Karen Bachmann, my boss. They're both senior professionals ... who refuse to behave like gurus. They're hands-on types - working managers who are as likely to be churning out first-rate speeches or briefing papers as they are to be offering reputation counsel. If you had to choose a career other than PR, what would it be? I probably would have stayed a newspaper reporter, unless there's an opening for a shorter, less soulful Backstreet Boy. What advice would you offer to a future 15 to Watch candidate? Stay real humble, and keep focusing on the work. Also, if you can possibly manage it, try to be born on Feb. 29. That way, you keep your "under 35" designation longer. Adam Sherk VP of Internet PR Outrider USA Bend, Ore. Age: 29 As graduation neared at Chicago's Loyola University, Adam Sherk was sure he didn't want to transform his major in English into a teaching career. He was also secure in the notion that he didn't know what career he wanted pursue. Serendipitously, he signed on as an intern with Nathan PR, a small Chicago-based agency, and discovered his natural talent for communicating. But Sherk really found himself when he coupled his communications aptitude with his interest in the Internet. He was the main force behind the Internet News Bureau, an email press release distribution service, which recently acquired. In his position with Outrider USA, Sherk is building an Internet PR department from scratch while editing the Internet Public Relations Digest, a twice-weekly email discussion list. Who is your mentor and why? John Audette, founder of Multimedia Marketing Group ( John ... taught me to have vision, and to put everything that I have into bringing my ideas to life. What was your worst PR mistake and what lesson did you learn from it? At my first PR job I let a client newsletter go to print with a major typo on the front page. I have been a very thorough (my team would probably say anal) proofreader ever since. What is the strangest thing you've done in the line of duty? I came extremely close to having to parade around with an elephant outside of Spring Internet World last year for a client. Fortunately the plug was pulled on the stunt due to logistical problems. If you had to choose a career other than PR, what would it be? I'd like to be a foreign correspondent for an online news source. What is your greatest accomplishment? Building an Internet PR department at my company literally from scratch, and putting together a great team that delivers excellent results for clients. What PR issues keep you up at night? It will be much easier for large traditional PR firms to become strong in the online world than it will be for small Internet firms to develop a complete PR solution. What advice would you offer to a future 15 to Watch candidate? There is enormous opportunity on the Web. Do not let agency politics get in your way. Jon Weisblatt PR Manager, Workstations Dell Computers Austin, Texas Age: 30 Cobbling together pieces of the PR industry, Jon Weisblatt has built himself a skill set one specialty at a time. He spent a few years in D.C. as part of a crisis management consultancy, learning how to put the best face on oil spills and pipeline explosions. He dabbled for six months as a freelance political consultant. He moved on to Shandwick, running PR for the U.S. Mint's gold bullion coin program ("On the positive side, I learned how to develop pitches for stories no one wants to write about"). And he learned a little about merger communications firsthand, "though it was more a lesson in what not to do." Moving to the West Coast, he helped launch Sprint Spectrum, the first PCS network, and learned a love for high-tech. Which eventually led him to Dell, where he oversees PR for the workstation unit. "My agency life definitely provided me the best possible training ground to learn all the skills - client management, time management and how to think like a client," he says. "Corporate PR is where I've been able to put all those things together." What piece of advice has been of most use to you in your professional career? Think like the client. That concept taught me to think about issues and ideas less from a pure PR perspective, and more about my client's business objectives. This in turn allowed me to present strategic recommendations to my clients that aligned with their business. What was your worst PR mistake and what lesson did you learn from it? When news outlets on the Web began to proliferate, traditional outlets and trade publications stopped honoring embargoes.... I learned that the Internet had changed rules of PR for good, and that everything said to a reporter is fair game to be published, regardless of embargoes. What PR issues keep you up at night? Promises/over-commitment of PR activities by marketing people who "just don't get it." What's the one thing you can't live without in public relations? A telephone. Email and other communications tools are great, but there's nothing like picking up the phone and talking to a reporter. What advice would you offer to a future 15 to Watch candidate? Read. Strive to learn as much about the industry in which you work as if you're the CEO.

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